US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The Adjustment Bureau

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The Adjustment Bureau
Directed by George Nolfi (Universal Pictures, 2011)

In director George Nolfi’s movie version of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi tale, Matt Damon is once again on the run from powerful bureaucrats in dark suits and narrow ties. This time, however, the star of the Bourne films is not being pursued by government officials and assassins but agents from a more secret and metaphysical office: folks employed by the fates to keep our individual lives in line with some bigger plan being worked out on the top floor.

Senatorial candidate David Norris (Damon) unexpectedly bumps into a lovely dancer named Elise (Emily Blunt) in the men’s room, and suddenly you can hear the string section breaking into “Some Enchanted Evening.” But before their little romance gets going, Norris stumbles into a room full of other-worldly set designers moving his immobilized friends around like stage props.

After a quick chase scene, the dapper, fedora-sporting men of the Adjustment Bureau grab Norris and sit him down for a friendly lesson in the way things really are. Life, it turns out, is something of a play being directed by unseen hands, and free choice is a bit of an illusion maintained by the folks working behind the scenes to keep the play on course.

In David’s case, however, his chance encounter with Elise has somehow thrown a wrench into the master plan, and the folks from the Bureau try to persuade, cajole, and threaten him to abandon his feelings for her and color within the predestined lines of their separate futures. Of course Damon and Blunt do not wish to follow these heartless instructions—this film turns out to be a sci-fi thriller with the heart of a romantic comedy—and soon the love-struck couple is in a cat-and-mouse chase with the gray-flannelled agents of fate.

The only question is, is our desire for a romantic ending an expression of our own free will or part of the illusion created by the Adjustment Bureau?